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Alan Rickman, Much More Than Hollywood's Go-To Villain


And we are remembering Alan Rickman this morning. The British actor on stage and on screen has died at age 69. Maybe the best way to describe him is Hollywood's go-to villain. Many people might member him from his role in "Harry Potter." I remember him most for his role in "Die Hard." If Bruce Willis was the hero in that movie, Hans Gruber was Bruce Willis' enemy. And Hans Gruber was played by Alan Rickman.


ALAN RICKMAN: (As Hans Gruber) Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.

GREENE: Haunting - taking over that Los Angeles skyscraper on Christmas. I'm joined by NPR film critic Bob Mondello, who's in the studio with me. Hey, Bob.


GREENE: So Alan Rickman, I mean, is that the way to describe him? I mean, just he played a villain better than anyone else?

MONDELLO: Well, he sure proved it right from the get-go. Apparently, he was hired to play Hans Gruber after he'd been in Hollywood exactly three days.

GREENE: Oh my God.

MONDELLO: He went there after he - he'd done about 10 years of television in Britain, and he came over to Los Angeles and was hired him almost immediately to play Hans Gruber. And of course, he had a British accent - there he sounded sort of vaguely German - but really an extraordinary villain. And they - very shortly thereafter, he was playing the Sheriff Nottingham in "Robin Hood." He was - he just seemed disturbing and worrisome. And then he had this other side that we discovered. You know, just within two years, he was cast in a romantic comedy. And it was extraordinary. It was called "Truly Madly Deeply"...

GREENE: ...Which we have some tape of here. Let's listen to that.


RICKMAN: (As Jamie) Talking was the major component. You played the piano. And I played, then we both played something - a duet, something - I can't remember. And then you danced for about three hours until I fell asleep. But you were fantastic.

GREENE: What's the role he's playing there?

MONDELLO: He's a ghost. And it's a lovely romance, and he's lovely in it. And I think everybody saw that he had another side. Ang Lee hired him to play a part in "Sense And Sensibility" shortly thereafter. He was an actor - I mean, you know, he was a classically trained actor in Britain and had done a lot of stage roles. And so he could pretty much slip into something rather quickly. And he actually won a Tony Award, I think, for "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" on Broadway, playing another villain. But then he was very funny in shows like "Private Lives" on stage. So he was just all over the place.

GREENE: And is it the versatility that makes him special and that you'll remember him for?

MONDELLO: No, it's his voice. That voice - oh my gosh. There's something really - I mean, yeah, sure he was versatile. He could do all these things. But that voice was sophisticated and communicated enormous feeling. You know, even when he was playing - you heard that ho, ho, ho at the beginning. You knew what he was thinking when he did something as simple as that.

GREENE: It was evil and funny and sort of all wrapped up into one emotion.

MONDELLO: Yeah. He did really - extraordinary.

GREENE: Remind us about his role in Harry Potter. I want to play just a bit of that.

MONDELLO: He played Severus Snape, a very worrisome character. I hesitate to call him a villain, but he was a very worrisome character, and scary.


RICKMAN: (As Severus Snape) Mr. Potter - our new celebrity. Tell me, what would I get if added powdered root to asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?

GREENE: (Laughter) It gives me chills.

MONDELLO: You don't want him as your teacher. That's for sure.

GREENE: That's for sure. Well, we're going to miss that voice. We're remembering Alan Rickman, the actor who died at age 69 this morning - speaking about him with NPR film critic Bob Mondello. Bob, thanks a lot.

MONDELLO: It's great to be here, but sad for this.

GREENE: Indeed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.

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